For all the current and former Republican governors facing serious scandals – Rick Perry, Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, et al – let’s not forget about Gov. Scott Walker. The Wisconsin chief executive is in the middle of a tough re-election fight – which he’ll have to win to move forward with his presidential plans – and a lingering controversy is making his task more difficult.
To briefly recap, Wisconsin election laws prohibit officials from coordinating campaign activities with outside political groups. When Walker faced a recall campaign, however, he and his team may have directly overseen how outside groups – including some allegedly non-partisan non-profits – spent their campaign resources.
Late Friday night, the allegations surrounding the governor’s office appear to have grown far more serious. Consider this report from Madison’s Wisconsin State Journal.
Gov. Scott Walker personally solicited millions of dollars in contributions for a conservative group during the 2011 and 2012 recalls, which prosecutors cited as evidence the governor and his campaign violated state campaign finance laws, records made public on Friday show.Among the groups that donated money to Wisconsin Club for Growth during that time was Gogebic Taconite, which contributed $700,000, according to the records. The company later won approval from the Legislature and Walker to streamline regulations for a massive iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.
In an April court filing unsealed briefly on Friday, a lawyer wrote, “Because Wisconsin Club for Growth’s fundraising and expenditures were being coordinated with Scott Walker’s agents at the time of Gogebic’s donation, there is certainly an appearance of corruption in light of the resulting legislation from which it benefited.”
I think it’s safe to say these revelations do not cast Walker and his team in a positive light. On the contrary, Friday’s night’s evidence appears quite damning.
As additional reporting from the weekend makes clear, Team Walker, with the governor’s direct involvement, is accused of raising money for Wisconsin Club for Growth, which in turn ran ads to support the governor and helped disperse campaign funds to conservative allies.
In one especially damaging detail, Walker was dispatched to Las Vegas with talking points on the importance of unregulated contributions for the supposedly independent nonprofit group.
“Stress that donations to [Wisconsin Club for Growth] are not disclosed and can accept corporate donations without limits,” an aide told Walker via email. “Let [potential donors] know that you can accept corporate contributions and it is not reported.”
Wisconsin Club for Growth allegedly funneled these unregulated contributions to allies, all to help Walker prevail in his recall election. Indeed, the reports suggest the governor insisted on Wisconsin Club for Growth maintaining a leadership role in order to “ensure correct messaging.” A fundraising consultant for Walker to one of the governor’s campaign consultants, “We had some past problems with multiple groups doing work on ‘behalf’ of Gov. Walker and it caused some issues.”
The coordination aspect is clearly problematic under campaign-finance laws, but the scandal may also include a possible quid-pro-quo angle.
Other Wisconsin Club for Growth donors included Gogebic Taconite LLC, which has proposed opening a 4 1/2-mile long iron mine in northern Wisconsin. The company gave $700,000 to Club for Growth in 2011 and 2012. Walker signed legislation last year streamlining state mining requirements and paving the way for the project. The documents don’t show whether Walker directly solicited donations from that company. A spokesman for the company did not return a message seeking comment.
There are 71 days until Election Day in Wisconsin. These are probably not the kind of headlines the Republican governor was hoping for as the campaign cycle approaches Labor Day.
Postscript: If you’re new to Walker’s scandal or need a refresher, this Q&A is helpful (thanks to my colleague Nazanin Rafsanjani for the heads-up).